You most likely know that links are important to search engines and if you want to have your pages show up in search results you need more links. What you may or may not know is that the quality of your backlinks are more important than the quantity of links you have. A handful of quality links will carry more weight in search engines than many times that handful of low quality links. But how do you recognize quality links?
Though there are some general rules to follow, finding high quality links isn’t exactly cut and dry. SEO is just as much art as it is science. Generally older links are better than newer links, with the age determined by how long those links have been pointing to your site. The link you got last year that is still pointing to your site today probably carries more weight than the link you got yesterday. Since older links carry more weight, you want to get them from sites that you feel confident will be around for more than a few weeks.
How relevant that other site is to yours also helps determine quality. If you sell t-shirts on your site a link from a web page selling custom picture frames isn’t relevant, but a link from a clothing manufacturer would be highly relevant. So would a link from a web page that sells sweaters or sneakers or anything else someone might wear. It only makes sense that a recommendation from someone in your industry would mean a little more than a recommendation from someone outside the industry.
The trustworthiness of the other site also goes into determining quality. A comment on a blog that links back to you is far less trustworthy than a link from whitehouse.gov or the home page of Columbia University. A link from the Yahoo directory, or any human edited directory is far more likely to be trusted than a directory which accepts any site that fills out it’s submission form.
I’ve tried to make the examples above a little obvious though many times it’s not going to be so clear cut if you’re comparing two sites and trying to decide which would make for a better backlink. Fortunately you don’t always need to choose one over the other as a general rule. More links is still better than less links, but remember that quality is more important than quantity. If you do some searches for backlinks for the sites that show up on the first page of search results you’ll often see they have quite a lot of links pointing at them. Because of that it’s easy to think ranking is all about the number of links. Keep in mind that just because a search engine shows a lot of backlinks for a site doesn’t mean all those links are weighted equally. A small number of high quality links really will do more than hundreds or even thousands of low quality links.
Knowing you need quality links isn’t necessarily about choosing one particular link over another. It’s more about changing the way you go about looking for backlinks. It might sound great when you hear the promise of an automated link exchange and start to dream about all those links you’ll be getting. It sounds good until you realize those links are going to be low quality and no matter how many you get they won’t carry any weight or help your pages rank well. Getting high quality links isn’t necessarily easy or quick either. The best things never are. Though if given the choice of submitting my site to a few hundred directories or spending that same time creating content that will make a high quality site want to link to me I’ll opt for spending the time building that content most of the time.
A good way to think about what makes a quality link is to take search engines out of the picture. Whenever you’re looking for a link ask yourself if you would want that link if there was no such thing as Google; if Yahoo didn’t exist; if Microsoft was just developing operating systems. If the only reason you want a link is because of how it might look to a search engine it’s probably not a quality link. Quality links have value in themselves. I’d really like it if the W3C linked to me. It would make no difference if a search engine ever saw that link I would still want it. The W3C is a trusted site that develops the standards for html, css, and other web languages. If they were to recommend me as a web designer and developer it would make no difference if a search engine ever took notice. That’s a quality link for my site.
When looking for links think quality first and when looking for quality look to sites that will be there in the coming years and offering a permanent link, look to sites that are related to yours, and look for sites that are trusted authorities on your topic. If you still think a link is valuable even if it will never be noticed by a search engine you’ve found a high quality link.